How to prepare yourself and your children.
With the start of school round the corner, it can be a challenging time for both children and parents. Whether it is the start of nursery for the first time, a new school, a new year, primary, secondary or even just a change of pupils in a class, children have a lot to deal with after such a long summer holiday.
And it is not just the little ones, parents - and particulary mums - feel the pressure with separation, anxiety and routine. Even if you are super excited about time to yourself again, it can also leave you feeling emotional.
Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia: Center for Wellbeing says: "It is very normal for parents and children alike to feel nervous when children are going to do something new or different.
"At a very basic level, the child feels like their survival is under threat. They don't have the cognitive capacity for abstract thinking or being able to predict the future. The parents are triggered by the child's anxiety and instinctually go to 'protect' their child from the difficult feelings.
"Starting nursery is nerve wrecking because the child will no longer be in the care of the mother or in the home. Parents feel anxious that the child will cry or need something and they will not be there to console or comfort the child. It's an adjustment period for both parents and child alike."
Trish King Principal from Dubai’s newest and most innovative kindergarten Smart Start says we need to prepare our children now, she says: "If you are positive about it, then it's likely your child will be too. Start to talk to your child about going back to school or nursery as it can be a worrying time for little ones.
"Over the summer routines have probably been put to the side, so really try and get regular bed time routines back in place and have a few mornings prior to starting back where the morning routine is followed in terms of wake up and breakfast time. It will make those first few days back easier and little less stressful."
Dubai British School offer this advice for those starting FS1. "Encourage your children to be independant, let them put on their own shoes and try to get dressed themselves. It can be frustrating for parents to watch, but allowing the children to do this themselves will help them when they have to do it at school on their own. Reinforce manners such as please and thank you, and ensure they understand what going to school means. This can be a tough time for them, but it is also a rewarding and wonderful experience."
Tips from Dr Saliha Afridi
Do your research
Ask other parents, go on blogs, take a tour and speak to the teachers and the administration about their teaching philosophy. The more you feel comfortable, the more you will be able to feel at ease about leaving your child their care.
The more children know about their environment the less anxious they will feel.
Go to the school or nursery, show them the classroom, the bathrooms, the playground and introduce them to the teacher and the teacher aid. The more they understand the lay of the land, the more comfortable they are likely to feel.
If the child is starting nursery for the first time, you may ask the nursery to sit in in the classroom for the first week while the child adjusts. You could sit in for an hour or even sit outside of the classroom.
Understand and manage your own anxiety
Children will look to you to center themselves. If they sense you are overly nervous and anxious, they will feel worst. Understand that growing up involves growing pains. As a child gets his/her immunizations to inoculate against certain diseases, he/she needs small doses of anxiety throughout their childhood to prepare them for adulthood. It may help to see your role as a coach- whose job is not to protect your child but to equip your child with the skills and emotional capacity to protect themselves.
Do as you say
If you say you will pick them up as soon as the class gets out- be there as soon as it gets out and not 5 or 10 mins after. The more the child trusts you, the more likely they will trust what you tell them about their new environment. If you say you will go for a treat afterwards, then regardless of what came up, make sure you take them for the treat afterwards.
Reading stories with related themes are a great way to socialize your child to what they can expect. Here a list of stories parents can pick from: https://www.amazon.com/First-Day-School-Issues-Books/b?ie=UTF8&node=1084236
Limit other changes to usual routines
As much as possible, try to limit other small or big changes at that time. Travel plans, guests and dinner parties can be put on hold. Routines and bedtimes give kids a sense of predictability and safety. You are not doing them a favor by allowing them to stay up late or have dinner at the mall.
If you have to move, unpack, adjust to a new nanny or get over jet lag - it's best to do it a couple weeks before the start of nursery. This way the child only has to adjust to one new stressor.
Talk to your child and see if they would like to take their stuffed toy or their sippy cup to the nursery. These transitional objects give kids a sense of familiarity which helps ease their anxiety about being in a new environment.
Children under the age of 7 may use play and art to work through difficult feelings. Toys and art are the words and play is the language. Create space for kids to work out their difficult feelings by giving them toys and art that will facilitate such exploration and expression.
Consult a psychologist
To have some anxiety in a new environment is normal. However, there are some children who have more clinical symptoms of anxiety. Look for symptoms like Stomachaches, headaches, regressive behaviors like losing bowel control and thumb sucking when they had already stopped, uncontrollable crying even weeks after school starts, severe temper tantrums, loss of appetite, nightmares, and school refusal-- could indicate a more serious issue that requires further exploration and consultation with a trained professional. Parents should keep in mind that it typically takes about 6 weeks for a child/parent to adjust.
Anxiety Management Toolbox
If a child is older they can be taught some anxiety management skills. Whether it's deep breathing, positive visualization, trashcan for negative thoughts --- there are many techniques and tips that parents can teach their children to defuse difficult feelings when they surface.